Album Review: Joy Orbison – Still Slipping Vol. 1

[XL/Hinge Finger; 2021]

When you’ve been one of the foremost figures in UK underground electronic for just over a decade, what, then, do you want your hugely-anticipated first-ever album to sound like? A zeitgeist-grabbing landmark? A collection of true standalone hits?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot and, you feel, it’s also marked the atmosphere of Still Slipping Vol. 1, Joy Orbison’s debut album (what he’s calling a mixtape). This is a fiercely nostalgic collection, the air heavy with melancholy. It’s a snapshot of nocturnal notes and quiet moments, laden with pensiveness. Not a full-on rave but rather a thoughtful slow-burner; when much of the UK public sorely missed being able to lose themselves in on a dancefloor these past 18 months, maybe this downtempo mixtape is Orbison – otherwise known as Peter O’Grady – just sensing the mood and the time.

In other words, Still Slipping Vol. 1 feels a long way from Orbison’s much-hyped and dearly beloved 2009 breakthrough garage banger “Hyph Mngo”. In the intervening years, he’s explored a wide variety of dance palettes and rightfully they all appear here: there’s twinkling techno, nostalgic garage, airy house, and slight d’n’b, which speaks to his versatility as a DJ and producer. Guests pop up in strong features, including James Massiah who provides a great laidback verse in “swag w/ kav”, and Léa Sen who adds her silky vocals to “better”.

It’s not just collaborative friends who appear. The mixtape is personal writ large, Orbison’s family featuring throughout (even the album artwork is his Aunt Leighann, credited with introducing him to a lot of dance music). In the opening track “w/ dad & frankie” we can hear a clip of his dad chatting away, leaving someone in hysterics; the final track “born slipping” (surely an homage to Underworld’s classic) ends with the voices of his family all together, full of laughter and light. It all gives the mixtape an almost voyeuristic feel: when we had to spend so much time apart from our own loved ones recently, how could we have expected Orbison to be this openly intimate?

There are no particularly standout tracks on Still Slipping Vol. 1, but that doesn’t appear to be Orbison’s mandate. “Runnersz”, with its twinkling synths, swiftly swirls into the dark beat of “rraine”, which is reminiscent of King Krule’s 2015 album under the name Archy Marshall, A New Place 2 Drown. The woozy “froth sipping” contains glitchy lounge beats before “layer 6” provides a slight d’n’b workout. All of it is minuscule and done in a minor setting, but it’s also meaningful. Tracks appear like brief sketches before dissipating into the air.

It’s the low-key nature of this mixtape that makes Still Slipping Vol. 1 a compelling listen. And to wait 12 years to release your first-ever full-length record? The boldness of Orbison has to be admired. With its unhurried pacing and relaxed atmosphere, it sounds like Orbison’s just waiting for the time when the party can really and truly begin again, like the rest of us.